Alexandria Robles - 2015 Program Participant

Friends exploring El Salvador

Adventures with New Friends

Why did you decide to apply for an international program? 

I wanted a chance to learn about other cultures and to learn more about how other people live. I have spent my whole life living in one place and I knew that if I got a chance to volunteer in an international program I could learn so much. I also wanted to be able to help people in a country that was less developed than America.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Surf Strong?

I choose to volunteer with Surf Strong for a few specific reasons. I was first of all looking for a program where I could gain a real cultural experience. One of the founders of Surf Strong is a local, so I knew that It would give me a chance to practice my Spanish and actually learn a lot about the culture. I also wanted to volunteer with a program where I could be close to the beach and be able to surf. Lucky for me, Surf Strong is literally on the beach, and I have gotten to surf every day and use their surf boards for free.

Visiting the Channel Islands in El Salvador

Rocks in the Channel Islands

All of these reasons aside, the main reason I choose to work with Surf Strong is because I believed in their mission. There are many programs happening right now in El Salvador. One of the best ways to help improve the state of the country is to keep the youth safe and help empower them, and then they can be the change for the future. Surf Strong's program gives free surf lessons to children to help give them a safe place and to use surfing as a medium to empower them, and this was something I really wanted to be a part of.

What was your favorite part about El Salvador?

I loved being right on the beach! Every morning I could wake up and go for a run or get up and surf. It's perfect here. The water temperature is always warm, the sky is sunny, and the waves are awesome!

What makes Surf Strong unique?

Working at Surf Strong was unique because it's a program where volunteers actually have flexibility to create their own projects. I didn't want to volunteer a lot of time to a place where I would feel like I was not actually making a difference. At Surf Strong you not only get to work with the kids but you also get a chance to work on other things that you feel would be helpful.

For me, I spent some time creating different memory card games as a fun way to learn English. We have gotten to use these games when the waves were too strong for the children to surf and it has been really awesome to know that something I have created has actually helped the program and the kids.

Sunset on the beach in El Salvador

Our Backyard

How supportive was local staff during your time in El Salvador?

The local staff here is so supportive. I came to El Salvador without knowing anyone, but now I am leaving with a new family. Sarah and Jerson, the two founders, are here to help you with whatever you need. They have helped make me feel right at home, cooked me meals with my dietary restrictions in mind, and have helped support me in the projects that I wanted to work on here. Sarah even went and bought me all the materials that I needed in order to make my English memory card games.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish that I would have brought some American board games for the kids to play with. I didn't really know what to expect when coming here, but I wish that I could have brought a lot of games so the children could play with them when the waves were too large.

Swimming with children in El Salvador

Swimming with the Kids

What was a typical day like for you volunteering in El Salvador?

There is no typical day in the life of my program because every day is different and flexible. The most consistent days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which are the days that the kids come. Normally I would wake up early for a surf or run and then eat breakfast and make coffee. Around 8:30 a.m. the kids would come and we would give them surf lessons for about two hours. After the lesson we would relax a little and work on some independent projects. I have been helping create a more formal lesson plan for the program.

Then we eat lunch and maybe squeeze in a quick surf session. A different group of kids come again and we give them a lesson and play some beach games. After the kids leave there is more down time or time for another surf session. In the evening, Sarah makes an amazing dinner and we usually stay up talking and playing cards.

What was one of your favorite experiences from your time abroad? 

One weekend a few of my new local friends and I went to another surf spot three hours from San Blas. We drove to Punta Mango in the night and when I woke up I was able to see a perfect, isolated surf break. Aside from the perfect waves it was a really great chance to see another part of the country. We stayed with a local family and I was able to help her cook breakfast and got a chance to practice my Spanish with the kids that lived there. One of my favorite parts of this adventure was going to the beach at night and looking up and seeing how stunning the stars were.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it? 

I stayed in a house that was located right on the beach. The room I stayed in had four beds, which would sometimes be full of volunteers and other travelers and sometimes had just me. The house was very clean and I loved that it was right on the beach.

Volunteer eating coconuts with children in El Salvador

Coconuts after swimming with the kids

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad in El Salvador impacted your life? 

The program has impacted my life in so many different ways. It has made me enjoy the simpler things more. Seeing how some people didn't have running water in their homes made me appreciate all the nice things I have in California. It has also made me want to come back and help again. I got to see first hand how important youth programs are, and even though I left El Salvador I still want to be involved. I am going to try and help fundraise so they are able to buy new surf boards.

My Spanish improved while I was there but the trip made me want to become fluent in Spanish, so I have signed up to start taking lessons. The volunteer experience has made me an overall happier person. I just want to live a simpler, enjoyable life and help people.